Gov't targets microcredit regulation early in new fiscal year

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamacaobserver.com

Monday, March 04, 2019

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ONE of the most important pieces of legislation scheduled to be debated early in the fiscal year 2019/20 is the long-delayed Microcredit Act, which aims at regulating micro-financing institutions while protecting their customers.

The Government made the first major step towards creating the new regulated environment with the tabling of the Bill in the House of Representatives last Tuesday, amid protests from Opposition members of parliament that the sitting should have been delayed.

Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke had to contend with objections raised by Opposition members who were angry about the late notice of the sitting circulated by Gordon House last week Monday night, less than 24 hours before the scheduled start, which resulted in a number of members of parliament being absent.

However, he explained the necessity to table the Bill to meet an economic commitment by the Government to have brought it to Parliament before the end of February, but that the debate would not be necessary, immediately.

Opposition MP Mikael Phillips described the suddenness of the meeting as an “ad hoc” way to handle the business of the House of Representatives.

“We are not objecting to coming to sittings of the House, but we want to ensure that members are given ample notice, so that we can make other arrangements and prepare ourselves for the sitting,” he said.

Phillips, who acted as leader of Opposition business in the absence of Phillip Paulwell, said that members did not expect a sitting as the House was adjourned for a date to be fixed when it met the Tuesday prior.

“That is a chaka chaka way of doing business,” agreed Opposition spokesman on finance Mark Golding, who pointed out that an earlier schedule sent to members did not include a sitting of the House.

But, Leader of Government Business Karl Samuda insisted that it is the duty of the members to be prepared to attend meetings, when they are required.

Samuda said that when he asked that the House be adjourned for a date to be fixed last week, he had no knowledge that the minister of finance had “a very important matter” that affects the finance sector.

“He informed me that it was very important for the House to convene to deal with a matter today (last Tuesday). We are always here, and we must always make ourselves available for this Honourable House, because that is what we are paid to do,” Samuda said.

“We didn't sign on to go to a constituency to go and try to do other work. I know where 90 per cent of your absentees are… but I am not going to crucify them for trying to climb Mount Everest. That's their business,” he added, in an obvious swipe at the MPs whom he felt were campaigning in Eastern Portland.

Dr Clarke said that the Government intends to put as much effort as possible behind the programme.

“The Government of Jamaica has a commitment to have tabled in this Honourable House the Microcredit Act in the month of February — today, being the last Tuesday in February,” Clarke noted.

He said that the process to draft the Bill involves the work and effort of many Jamaicans, working day and night to make it available to be tabled at this time.

“All that it required of us to meet the commitment is for this Honourable House to convene on a Tuesday, so that we can honour the commitment of our fellow Jamaicans who work in the public sector,” he stated as he tabled the Bill.

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen had listed the Microcredit Act among urgent pieces of legislation the Government wished to have passed during the 2019/20 fiscal year.

Sir Patrick told the Parliament then that ensuring access to finance and deepening financial inclusion would be a key objective of the Government during the new parliamentary year.

“As such, the Microcredit Act will be tabled that will provide the legislative framework for the private microcredit lending sector,” he said.

He also noted that legislation to amend the Co-operative Societies Act and introduction of a prudential regulatory regime for credit unions would strengthen deposit insurance and reduce risk during the year.

In addition, the Bill to modernise the Bank of Jamaica and make inflation targeting the cornerstone of monetary policy, which is currently before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, would also be dealt with, as a modernised and strengthened central bank would institutionalise and entrench low, stable and predictable inflation, which is a critical platform for any modern economy.


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